The Black Sash believes South Africa is on the threshold of a major consumer breakthrough, with the introduction of the much anticipated ‘Consumer Protection Act’ on Friday (1 April 2011). The Act promises to turn South Africans into some of the most heavily protected consumers in the world.
Black Sash Advocacy Programme Manager Nkosikhulule Nyembezi says for the first time in South African history, an act will consolidate the rights of consumers and the obligations of suppliers in one piece of legislation. “The balance of power has finally swung in favour of consumers. We believe the Act protects consumer rights in an uncompromising manner and will have a profound effect on the way we do business in South Africa. It requires suppliers and retailers to transform the way in which they interact with consumers and to ensure that all their dealings are fair, reasonable and honest,” says Nyembezi.
The Black Sash is however concerned that the application of the Consumer Protection Act to about 200 medium and low capacity municipalities has been deferred until further notice. This means that ratepayers and other consumers of municipal services, such as water, electricity, refuse removal, vehicle licensing and people who rent municipal housing, will be deprived of the recourse they would otherwise have against their municipality under the CPA. Nyembezi says most of these municipalities are in rural areas and the decision sets an “unhealthy precedent of lowering standards - again disproportionately affecting the poor and fuelling injustice. What is so important about the CPA, is that it critically breaks this exclusive link between payment and the right to good service which has often excluded the poor from realising their basic human needs and their right to dignity,” explains Nyembezi.
The Black Sash, which has provided free paralegal advice and support to poor and vulnerable consumers for many decades, has launched an awareness campaign to coincide with the introduction of the CPA. “Our case work reveals just how vulnerable and open consumers are to abuse, especially those in poor communities and rural areas. We have come across many cases of misleading and bait advertising, the non-honouring of guarantees, abuse of information, nondisclosure, unfair contract terms and poor product quality. We hope that by informing our clients about the new ‘return and refund’ policies; the protection against ‘lock-in’ contracts and aggressive direct marketing; as well as the fair charging for sms competitions etc, they will be able to better protect themselves against unfair and exploitative business practices,” says Nyembezi.
The Black Sash would like the commended the Department of Trade and Industry and the Department of Economic Planning for the transparent and consultative manner in which the regulations have been drafted, and anticipate that this process will assist with the implementation of the Act. Over the coming months, the human rights organisation will monitor the National Consumer Commission’s commitment to a six-week turnaround for addressing complaints, and a six-month turnaround for the resolution of these complaints.
Nyembezi says the Commission is a key pillar in implementing the legislation and shielding consumers from abuse. “The Act requires that the commission plays a proactive role in strengthening consumer protection in South Africa. Another key feature of the act is the recognition of the need strong partnerships between the government and civil society when it comes to promoting and advancing the social and economic welfare of consumers. We need to work together to eliminate any disadvantages in accessing goods or services.,” insists Nyembezi.
Download and print out the Black Sash ‘You and Your Rights: Services’ flyer For interview requests, please contact:
Black Sash Advocacy Programme Manager
Cell: 082-429 4719
Black Sash Advocacy Programme Manager
Cell: 072-382 8175
Black Sash Paralegal
Cell: 084-357 5981